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November 1, 2023
The trees put on a show of orange for the weekend of National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as Métis families with children ages 3-12 years came together for the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) Early Learning Fall Camp.
From September 27 to October 1, groups got cozy in their wood cabins at the Canadian Ecology Centre in the beautiful Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park. A short walk from the river, kids discovered the campfire pit, dining hall and gathering space where Métis families met for the first time.
The sun smiled down on the campers during their first day at camp as they participated in interactive activities, including GPS tracking, a scavenger hunt, and story time at the fire.
Around the fire, President of the Niagara Region Métis Council, Derrick Pont, shared a beloved campfire song. Métis children sang, “He can play his fiddle fast, he can play his fiddle slow, – fiddle fiddle fiddle fast – fiddle fiddle fiddle slow,” with an ever-increasing tempo, families loved the challenge of singing along.
This energy carried through to the Kitchen Party, where Métis children danced the night away with glow sticks and snacks in hand.
Saturday was the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, and MNO staff provided Orange Shirts to all campers to honour the story of Residential School Survivors. Activities focused on reflecting on the many Métis placed into residential, boarding and day schools.
The book “The Orange Shirt Story” by Phyllis Webstad was read to all families, and later, the campers participated in Orange Shirt Day crafts and a reconciliation walk.
During the reconciliation walk, MNO staff Amanda Pont-Shanks shared the significance of the day, the 94 Calls to Action, and why we remember the legacy of Residential Schools and the intergenerational trauma these institutions inflicted upon survivors and their communities.
MNO staff offered support during difficult conversations and reminded all families and campers of their impact on the world.
“This is an opportunity to authentically celebrate us as a people, to reconcile past injustices, and focus on healing internally,” said Amanda Pont-Shanks. “If we can continue to support family experiences such as this, the healing will keep growing and growing to a place where they can have that sense of pride that, maybe, their grandparents or great-grandparents never had.”
As the day wrapped up, families gathered around the campfire for s’mores and to reflect on the significance of the weekend as a community-building experience.
PCMNO Executive Senator Rene Gravelle shared, “When I see families getting together, people practicing culture and togetherness, it makes me happy.”
Attendee Kim Sanftemberg mentioned, “The kids enjoyed meeting one another. They have a lot in common, so it was nice to see them get to know one another”.
The final day came too swiftly, and on Sunday morning, the families enjoyed their last breakfast together.
With all campers gathered in the hall, Métis children were asked their favourite part about camp. The kids shared their best memories from the weekend. With pride and enjoyment, one said, “S’mores”; another said, “The dance party,” and another interjected, “EVERYTHING.”
All the families went home with a Métis sash, gifted by Senator Rene Gravelle, and a warm goodbye.
Although the weekend did explore the serious and emotional topics surrounding the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, families were provided with a healing environment to share and connect through conversation, crafts, and friendship.
If you missed the camp and are interested in keeping up-to-date on Early Learning initiatives, be sure to read the “Tiny Tribune,” a newsletter created by MNO staff here: Tiny Tribune Newsletter – Métis Nation of Ontario (metisnation.org)
To view the full gallery of images collected over the experience, visit the Google folder shared here!